These days, if you want to really make the best use of your laptops, tablets, and phones, you need a cloud storage service. The concept of storing files in the cloud may have started as a way for consumers to back up their data in case of disaster, but today’s best services offer so much more.
A good cloud storage solution backs up your important documents, photos, and videos, but it also helps keep all your devices in sync. It’s a great way to make sure your laptop, phone, and tablet all have instant access to all your digital content. Plus, you can access and edit documents from a web browser and easily share files and folders with others.
If you use Apple products—whether that’s just a single iPhone or you’re all-in with tons of Apple gear—we think these are the best cloud storage solutions to subscribe to.
Best cloud storage overall: Google One/Drive
This gets a little confusing. Google offers upgrades to its cloud storage, currently just called Google Drive (though the storage space is used for lots of Google products). Over the course of 2018, Google will transition that storage subscription to a new service named Google One, but the Google Drive app, used for managing your files, will remain. So, Google One will be the service, while Google Drive will be one of several products that taps into it, along with Google Photos, Gmail, Google Docs, and more.
For now, your free Google account gets you 15GB of Google Drive space. You can boost that to 100GB for $1.99 a month or 1TB for $9.99, and there are even bigger plans available for real data hogs. When Google One launches, the $9.99 tier will double to 2TB and Google will add a new 200GB/$2.99 tier. If you have a paid Google Drive plan today, you’ll automatically be switched over to Google One.
Google’s cloud service simply does a lot of things very well. The Google Photos app is better then Apple’s in a lot of ways and the web experience is way better. It’s a great place to back up your photos and videos. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides have earned a great reputation as reliable, fast, and easy-to-use web-based collaborative productivity solutions and the iOS apps even support split-screen multitasking on iPad. Google Drive provides access to all your stuff via web, and the app integrates very well with the iOS share menu.
For your Mac or Windows PC, Backup and Sync is fantastic. It integrates your Google Drive into Finder or Explorer, keeps it in sync across devices, and can even back up your Documents, Desktop, Pictures (including your Photos library), or other folders of your choosing.
It may feel strange choosing Google as your primary cloud storage solution when you use Apple products, but it really does work wonderfully. It’s a no-brainer if you regularly use a Windows PC or want to access your files from the web, and the price is reasonable.
Best cloud storage if all your gear is Apple: iCloud
Because it integrates so seamlessly with all of Apple’s products and services, iCloud really is the best cloud storage solution for someone who is all-in with Apple. And I do mean all-in: All your computers are Macs, your mobile devices are iOS, you work in Apple’s productivity software (Pages, Numbers, Notes), and so on.
Frustratingly, Apple only provides a paltry 5GB of free iCloud storage, which isn’t so bad if all you want to do is store some Pages and Numbers documents, but is grossly inadequate for photos and videos. 5GB probably doesn’t even give you enough cloud storage to back up your iPhone, let alone an iPhone and iPad. Apple should stop counting iOS backups against your iCloud storage limits.
The main benefit of paying for more iCloud storage is that nearly all of Apple’s apps can seamlessly sync through it. Photos, productivity apps, Mail, Calendar, and anything you drop into your iCloud Drive folder in Finder on a Mac are immediately available across your whole Apple ecosystem. A significant number of iOS apps optionally back up and sync through iCloud, too.
If you rely on non-Mac computers or non-iOS mobile devices from time to time, you’ll find iCloud’s limitations frustrating. Apple provides a full suite of web apps at iCloud.com, but they’re sort of mediocre. Apple provides an iCloud Windows app that syncs data and integrates your iCloud mail with common Windows apps like Outlook, but there are no native apps for Windows or Android. If you want to edit a Pages document, you have to use the web interface.
Best cloud storage for business: Microsoft OneDrive
Microsoft OneDrive? For Apple users? Yeah! You’d be surprised how well Microsoft’s products work with iOS devices and Macs.
OneDrive gives you 5GB for free, the same as iCloud. There’s a $1.99 per month subscription that nets you 50GB of storage, but that’s not really a good deal. Where OneDrive really shines is in its $9.99 per month (or $99.99 per year) level. This gives you 1TB of cloud storage for up to 5 users. That’s 1TB per user, not shared! Each user also gets Office 365 Home, with full versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote, and you can install them on up to five computers, five tablets, and five smartphones.
It’s a good deal if you’ve got a family full of people with different devices. OneDrive, and all those Office apps, work on Windows (of course), Mac, iOS, and Android. Most importantly, Office apps are actually quite good on iOS and Mac. OneDrive syncs neatly across devices and works well on the Mac, integrating neatly into Finder. The iOS apps support iPad multitasking, and you even get Apple Watch apps for OneNote and Outlook.
Microsoft’s web-based apps are quite robust, too. So if you need to make some quick edits from a computer without Word or Excel installed, or just want to use a web-based email portal, you won’t get a half-baked experience.
If there’s a weak spot with OneDrive, it’s photos and videos. Yes, the OneDrive iOS app can automatically back up photos and videos from your iPhone or iPad (and OneNote has an awesome document scanner built-in), but the photo album experience online is lackluster and there’s no dedicated photo browser/editor app.
We still think Google provides a better overall cloud solution for most users, especially since you get three times as much free storage and double the storage at the $1.99/month level. But if you frequently use Microsoft’s productivity software, and especially if you have an iPhone or iPad but use a Windows 10 PC, you should give OneDrive a closer look.
Which cloud storage option you choose can depend largely on how much you’re willing to pay. If you want free space, Google crushes the competition with a generous 15GB. The 100GB for $1.99 level is a good deal for most people and doubles the capacity Microsoft gives you with OneDrive.
Apple’s iCloud gives you 200GB for $2.99, which is the minimum you’re going to have to spend if you plan to back up iOS devices to the cloud along with photos and videos. Google will add a tier to match this capacity and price when it transitions to Google One.
If you want to spend ten bucks a month, you’ll get 2TB from either Google or Apple, but Microsoft will give you five accounts with 1TB each. That’s a sweet deal.
What about Dropbox? Well, it’s hard to recommend for most users. A free account nets you a paltry 2GB, and the only paid option is a $9.99 per month 1TB plan. Dropbox does a good job of syncing folders on computers and mobile devices, but that’s not enough anymore—the competition does a great job of that, too. Editing and creating productivity documents is done through Dropbox’s all-in-one Paper app, which is just okay.
Dropbox will back up your photos and videos if you want, but the photo management experience is lackluster. Dropbox was the go-to cloud storage and sync service eight years ago, but has since been surpassed by more robust, flexible, and affordable offerings from its competitors.